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Don't forget about these 5 sleeper moves

These low-key Hot Stove additions could impact the playoff race
@mattkellyMLB
July 11, 2020

There’s been a lot on everyone’s mind since Spring Training camps were shut down in early March, and at this point, peak Hot Stove season feels like it was about two years ago. So, you’re certainly forgiven if you don’t remember every transaction over the offseason. But now that baseball

There’s been a lot on everyone’s mind since Spring Training camps were shut down in early March, and at this point, peak Hot Stove season feels like it was about two years ago. So, you’re certainly forgiven if you don’t remember every transaction over the offseason.

But now that baseball is set to return, it’s time to study up again. While you may remember the biggest uniform swaps (Mookie Betts is a Dodger, Gerrit Cole is a Yankee, Anthony Rendon is an Angel, etc.), here are five sleeper moves that could impact the season.

Will Harris, Nationals
How he got there: Signed as free agent from Astros
Your last memory of Harris is seeing him give up the World Series-winning home run to Howie Kendrick in Game 7, but you may not remember that, apart from two bad games to finish the year, Harris was a postseason horse for the Astros. In fact, he began October with 10 straight scoreless appearances, one game shy of the all-time record. Quiet, steady excellence is Harris’ thing: He and Aroldis Chapman are the only relievers in baseball to record a 115 ERA+ or better across at least 45 innings in each of the past five seasons. Now, Harris joins the contender who may have needed that kind of reliever the most -- the defending World Series champion Nationals, whose bullpen was their Achilles' heel throughout 2019. On paper, Harris, Daniel Hudson and Sean Doolittle could give Washington some much needed stability at the back end.

Kenta Maeda, Twins
How he got there: Trade with Dodgers
Maeda wasn’t the headliner in the three-part mega-trade that saw Betts and David Price go to L.A., but don’t sleep on what he could bring to Minnesota. Maeda eats right-handers for breakfast, and he’s routinely ranked among the league leaders in lowest hard-hit rate allowed. It’s because of all that soft contact that Maeda’s Statcast expected ERA (3.26) was nearly a run better than his actual ERA (4.04) last year, and that expected mark ranked within the top 10% of qualified pitchers. Most teams -- except maybe the Dodgers, who sometimes seem like they have a surplus of arms -- would have gladly added Maeda to the middle of their rotations.

Even if you evaluate Maeda by his baseball-card numbers, both he and free-agent signing Rich Hill likely give the Twins two potential above-average starters behind José Berríos and Jake Odorizzi -- certainly something they could use in an AL Central race projected to come down to a game or two against the Indians. Plus, Maeda should be highly motivated to prove he can start full-time once again.

Emilio Pagán, Padres
How he got there: Trade with the Rays
Drew Pomeranz’s addition might have garnered more headlines, but in Pagán, the Padres might have traded for -- by one metric, at least -- the most stifling reliever in the game last year. That metric would be expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA), which combines the amount of contact a pitcher allowed (Pagán struck out 36% of the hitters he faced) and the quality of contact he allowed (Pagán put up a top-five reliever pop-up rate), and Pagán was MLB’s best qualified pitcher by xwOBA, just ahead of new teammate Kirby Yates.

With Pagán, Pomeranz and Yates looming at the back, San Diego has a legitimate claim to the NL’s best bullpen. That’s no small thing, considering that ZiPS’ most recent projected standings had San Diego positioned in the league’s final Wild Card spot -- but only by a game over four other teams.

Justin Smoak, Brewers
How he got there: Signed as free agent from Blue Jays
Smoak is only two years removed from a 38-homer, .883 OPS season for Toronto, so it’s easy to see why Milwaukee took a one-year, $4 million flyer. Smoak is entering his age-33 season, but he’s a switch-hitter who, even in back-to-back “down” seasons in 2018-19, still averaged 24 dingers and a .346 OPB. Smoak’s batted-ball metrics (including an 86th-percentile xwOBA) suggested he was a bit unlucky last year, and his skill against right-handed pitching should make him, at the very least, a solid platoon option at first base -- though he might see more playing time now that Ryan Braun can shift over to the DH.

Corey Dickerson, Marlins
How he got there: Signed as free agent from Phillies
Dickerson has been an above-average hitter (by OPS+) in each of his six full seasons as a big leaguer, and that alone should be an asset to a Marlins club that boasted just one qualified, above-average hitter (Brian Anderson) last year. In fact, as MLB.com's Richard Justice pointed out in December, Dickerson is one of only 23 hitters to put up an above-average batting line six years running, and his 121 OPS+ across that span is essentially the same as Justin Upton.

Though injuries limited him to only 78 games last year, Dickerson still had bright spots including MLB's third-highest sweet-spot rate (frequency of contact in the optimal launch angle range) on balls in play. He was also a top-15 outfielder by Statcast's Outs Above Average defensive metric as recently as 2018. He could be the Marlins' best all-around player this year, and Miami signed him to a team-friendly two-year deal. And hey, if there was ever a year when this Marlins club could make a run and get into the mix, it's 2020.,

Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.